Archive for November, 2020

Lesson 575 A Promised Land

Some have criticized Obama’s book as being too long, and this is only Volume I. Another criticism has been that he goes on and on with too much detail about decisions that were made before and after his election. But I must say I am finding that detail fascinating and informative.

I am only half way through, but I am already learning how important it is for a president to know much of the nation’s history; have a deep knowledge of domestic and foreign policy issues; choose only top experts for key positions; be willing to read and study critical briefing books every day; and be ready to put in the 12 to 16 hour days it takes to lead a nation.

In ancient Greece Plato proposed that “philosopher kings” were needed to lead governments. He was concerned that incompetent politicians might be chosen for high office. The same concern existed in early America. Ben Franklin famously said “you have a republic if you can keep it.” He hoped this “republic” would be able to prevent the wrong person from winning the presidency. But in 2016 we got a reality TV show host… and he certainly was no philosopher king.

We painfully learned that in today’s social media climate our American republic would not be able to prevent a poorly prepared, self-serving, wannabe autocrat from winning the presidency. We also found out that this self-promoter would know very little about his country’s history, its domestic and foreign policy issues, and would show no interest in learning about these things on the job.

We also learned that a surprising number of people would join his cause. Some felt their needs had been overlooked by government and would soon become his “base.” Poorly prepared people would eagerly join his staff and offer their loyalty simply to be close to power. As selfish, divisive and hostile behaviors grew, fear of what he might do would keep them in line. Thankfully, the first potential dictatorship in American history recently unraveled.

Therefore, I heartily recommend Obama’s, A Promised Land. It is a complete lesson on just how much public service inspired expertise and experienced teamwork is absolutely necessary to lead a unique democratic republic like America.

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Lesson 574 When Truth Dies

When truth dies… trust does too. And when this happens… there is no longer a normally functioning society.

When digital technology and social media enlarged the way television changed social and human behavior, the scene was set for a reality TV performer to be able to dominate public and news media attention.

People in rural areas and small towns were going through job losses and personal crises that were being ignored in Washington… while political parties were obsessed with fighting each other. This new media revolution made it easy for a TV performer to make promises to this lost audience that he would not keep… except for one: He will like them, if they will like and remain loyal to him. So he held rallies designed to entertain, which very soon included outrageous exaggerations, making up lies, assaulting people who disagreed, and engaging in opponent name-calling. Soon much of this also evolved into crazy conspiracy theories which appealed to those seeking a cult-like experience.

This is the kind of situation that spills into populism… which promises to make “all your problems go away.” And populism produces autocrats who purge experts from government and replace them with family members and unqualified but loyal friends. Guardrails to block this were never put in place in the United States. Until Trump, public service was what attracted people to government. Now we are dealing with the consequences.

Only a public service motivated leader, who always tells the truth and finds honest solutions to people’s problems, can regain the public’s trust and end the divisions that are tearing our country apart.

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Lesson 573 Finally An Experienced Government!

I yearn for an experienced White House. I also yearn for a resurgence of public service professionals leading and serving institutions, inside and outside government. A country is only as strong as its’ institutions.

When I was a student at American University in the 1960’s, public service was a profession offering decently paid career opportunities, including a measure of prestige. The U.S. Foreign Service, the FBI, the CIA, the state department, and many more, were attractive places to make a lifetime career. I met many of these impressive professionals in AU classrooms, and went to visit them on the job.

So here are my thoughts:

  1. The famous words of Ben Franklin ring loud right now, “You have a republic if you can keep it.” In light of this digital technology world, if the electoral college is to function as Franklin imagined, very serious guardrails must be added.
  2. Polarized parties in Washington failed to meet the needs of hurting people. A new White House must find ways to listen, and respond to those needs.
  3. The new White House must recruit experienced talent into a revived public service. Think-tanks, consultancies, and many international organizations in Washington abound with talent.
  4. Working together, these professionals must go to work to plan a final assault on the pandemic, infrastructure projects that create jobs, preserve regulations that protect health and the environment, create climate change initiatives; expand new energy jobs that gradually reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and improve healthcare so that it really works for everyone.
  5. With a more professional public service, a smaller and more efficient government should be possible. That can now become a legitimate bipartisan goal.
  6. The American president can once again build a cabinet of experienced experts, with clearly delegated responsibilities.
  7. The American people should now have a president who will read daily reports, will not spend every weekend playing golf, will not send out cruel and self-serving tweets, and will never use his office to enrich himself and his family.
  8. There must never again be an American president who is more comfortable in the company of dictators, than longtime allies.

Working across the aisle is the only way to truly govern. We now will have a White House that knows how to do that!

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